The US$50 million project proposal for a major cruise port in Southern Belize will be considered at Cabinet tomorrow, according to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, but he told us that Government is not yet at the stage where it will give approval to the project.
Apart from Government discussing the Harvest Caye proposal by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), though, they will also discuss the Puerto Azul proposal and the Stake Bank cruise terminal proposal, since those investors also need their nod from the Government to determine how to proceed with their projects, Minister of Labour, Local Government, Rural Development and National Emergency Management and Immigration and Nationality, Godwin Hulse, head of the Cabinet Investment Subcommittee, told Amandala.
The biggest debate has been about the Harvest Caye development, as both the Belize Tourism Industry Association (Placencia and Toledo arms), as well as the Placencia Tour Guide Association, have taken a stance against the project, calling on Government to reject the development proposal.
Minister Hulse told us that he was in meetings all day Monday dealing with the Harvest Caye proposal. The Minister said that apart from foreign elements, the majority of Belizeans would support the Harvest Caye project, but they want to participate; they want to be part of this economic movement.
Colin Murphy, NCL’s Vice President, Destination & Strategic Development, told our newspaper Monday that if Government says no to the revised proposal, the cruise line will go to another country with its proposal. However, he told us, he expects the response to be a bit more favorable.
That is because Government had already approved a resort development for the same Harvest Caye location, which was to include an airstrip and a 150-room hotel and villas over the water, Murphy told us. He said that that previous project is a “much bigger and heavier development” than Norwegian’s.
Hulse accepts that Norwegian wants a signal that they could move ahead, because “people are standing by waiting and time is money! They don’t want to be there forever while deliberating.”
He said that Belize has to say no and goodbye or yes, we can move, and these are the conditions under which they would be able to move ahead with the proposed projects.
Hulse said that the environmental concerns related to the Harvest Caye proposal are not as strong as those which surrounded Norwegian’s Crawl Caye proposal, which Government rejected last month.
Cabinet had rejected that proposal on the basis of environmental concerns, signaling that a development of that scale could not be allowed at a location which has protected status as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since then, Harvest Caye, which was to be used by Krystal Sea Limited for a mega resort which got environmental clearance years ago, has been proposed as an alternate location.
Amandala has received reports that meetings were held this weekend inside both political camps.
The proposed Harvest Caye project site falls within the division of Rodwell Ferguson, Opposition People’s United Party Area Representative for Stann Creek West. (Harvest Caye is said to be a mixed mangrove/littoral forest island, 71 acres, with the larger island comprising 58 acres and the smaller one, 13 acres.)
Ferguson said that they had two meetings with village leaders over the past two weeks, with the second having been held this past Saturday. According to the area rep, there appeared to be unanimous support from both the Opposition area reps in the South and the nearly 100 village leaders who attended the meeting, because the people want employment.
“The concerns of the villagers were, if this project were to come on-stream, how will they benefit?” Ferguson said.
He said that all four area reps in the south, PUP members — he along with Ivan Ramos (Dangriga), Oscar Requeña (Toledo West), and Mike Espat (Toledo East) — support the project.
“This is another opportunity to get 1,800 directly and indirectly, and so they are supportive of the project,” he told us.
He pointed to the high unemployment rate in his district: The recently released statistics for the April 2013 Labor Force Survey indicates that the Stann Creek District has the highest unemployment rate of all 6 districts – at 15.5%, according to the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB).
Ferguson said that they are looking at docking cruise passengers somewhere in the Independence area—not in Placencia.
In a letter to Prime Minister Barrow, dated Sunday, July 7, 2013, Ferguson said that after two meetings with the representative of Norwegian Cruise Lines, they were assured that “consideration will be given to the people in Southern Belize in regards to contracts, employment and to a certain extent training of our people.” Ferguson told the Prime Minster that they are in “full support of cruise tourism in southern Belize.”
For his part, Espat, PUP area rep for Toledo East, told our newspaper that Big Creek’s dream is also to have a cruise terminal there, and the project will be very near to it, between the southern part of Stann Creek West and Toledo East.
Espat also pointed to job opportunities as the main reason for the support of the project: “There is nothing happening in the south, and I believe people would be satisfied for anybody to get a job.”
He said that area reps are getting constant calls for assistance with fees for high school and university, because the employment situation is bad.
The ruling United Democratic Party also held a National Party Council meeting on Saturday, and Hulse indicated that the chairpersons and caretakers from the south were there and, except for those who are the large hoteliers or participating in overnight tourism, they expressed general support.
Hulse said that he favors national growth and the provision of meaningful jobs for Belizeans. He pointed again to the 5-point investment agenda which calls for projects that are socially and economically acceptable and legally doable; which bring revenue to the Government of Belize; which bring in the foreign exchange needed to procure goods and services from overseas; which provide meaningful jobs; and which will maintain the environment and, if possible, enhance it. He said that Cabinet is looking at all investments along those lines.
Hulse said he has had a chance to speak with Warren Garbutt, head of the Placencia Tour Guide Association, and he stressed that tour guides are concerned about economic participation in the tourism sector, and they don’t want a “trash and trample” development that would damage ancestral archaeological sites and hurt them economically, as well.
Speaking with Amandala last week, Prime Minister Barrow said, “There is no way Cabinet will approve any project without all the protocols being gone through…”
He said that Government is “very much far away from any possibility of final approval.”
Barrow did confirm that the initial Harvest Caye tourism proposal called for an overnight facility, including a top-rate hotel by the current owners, but Norwegian has been talking with them about putting the cruise port there. Barrow told us that since Norwegian proposes to do a destination island, the Environmental Impact Assessment would have to be retooled to fit the new project.
The Prime Minister underscored that, “We are a long, long way from any approval and I am not certain if we will get anywhere close.”